Instruments 3. Woodwind – Recorders and Flutes

So, on to the woodwind.

Not so long ago, woodwind instruments only really came in their ‘proper’ size – and children needed to be big and string enough to cope with them.

But, in the last ten years, there have been a large number of ‘junior’ woodwind instruments released on to the market which are suitable and comfortable for younger children to play and enjoy the incredible range of tone and colour available on the woodwind family.

First of all though, let me hype up the humble recorder. This is a fantastic instrument for a young child to start on. It’s light, cheap, comfortable to play, possible to make real progress quickly and you can play along with your friends. I teach a lot of large groups recorder lessons to age 6-7s and they love running along to their lessons!

Recorders come in lots of different sizes.


These are bass, tenor, treble (sometimes called alto), descant (sometimes called soprano), sopranino and the extremely diddy garklein. Looks confusing? Don’t worry. When you’re aged 5 or above, you can start to play the descant (or soprano) recorder. All you need are fingers that are fat enough to cover the holes and enough concentration to see you through a 15 minute session. You learn to read treble clef and learn a fingering system that will make it easy to transfer to any of the other high woodwind instruments. A great way to find your way into the woodwind family.

An easy move from the recorder is to the flute. It is based upon the same fingering system as the recorder and also uses the treble clef. It’s harder to make a sound than the recorder – you have to work hard to get the trick of blowing across the hole to get a sound (exactly like blowing across the top of a bottle).

(If you want the technical bit – the recorder and the flute both produce a sound in the same way. Fast moving air hits against a sharp edge – the fipple – which causes the air to split into two streams and start to vibrate. This vibration produces the sound. In the recorder the sharp edge is hidden inside the mouthpiece and you never see it. With the flute the sharp edge is the far edge of the hole. Aim is the air at that edge and you get a sound!)

Flutes can get quite heavy because they need to be held up horizontally with your arms quite a long way from your body. This can be quite tiring if you are young. The answer to this is a curved head flute.

By curving the head joint back on itself, it means that a young child’s arms are much closer to their body and the whole thing is much more comfortable to play.

There is now also one step further available with ‘simplified’ flutes. These are curved head flutes that also have a lots of unnecessary key work removed so they are much lighter than normal flutes. EJMS owns several Magilanck flutes of this variety which are very popular with the 7-year-olds.

Both the flute and recorder are great starter instruments for younger children. Unlike many other blowing instruments these are not at all affected by the lack or regrowing of front teeth.

So recorder from age 5 and flute from around age 6-7. But, read on, because there are more fantastic instruments available in the woodwind family.

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